Two new comedies premiere on CBC this month, Sophie and jPod, reminding us that Canadian television will be the only new scripted TV we’ll see for a while as the American writers’ strike continues into the New Year.
Both shows centre around a cast of quirky characters trying to make their way in a messed up world. However, unlike current Canadian comedies Corner Gas, Little Mosque on the Prairie and the classic Twitch City, both new shows fail to make their quirkiness seem effortless. Perhaps the cast and writers will eventually settle down and find their stride.
Based on Douglas Coupland’s novel of the same name, jPod follows the life of Ethan Jarlewski (played by David Kopp). Ethan is one of five employees of Neotronic Arts (a large Vancouver gaming company) stranded in a cruddy basement office due to a computer glitch which assigned random employees with last names beginning with J to that space.
Like most office comedies, jPod depends mostly on the day-to-day interactions between coworkers, the office politicking and, of course, the obnoxious boss. Ethan’s coworkers include Ethan’s love interest Kaitlin (Emilie Ullerup), a new arrival to both jPod and Canada, and John Doe (Torrance Coombs), a man fixated on averageness after his unconventional childhood in a lesbian commune. There’s also Cowboy (Ben Ayres), a slightly skeezy lady’s man, and Bree (Steph Song), a sexy motion capture expert. Into this mix arrives the new boss Steve (Colin Cunningham), who begins his reign by imposing a turtle character on the team’s Xtreme skateboarding videogame in an effort to please his estranged son.
Outside of the office, the show mostly concerns itself with the antics of Ethan’s parents, Jim (Alan Thicke) and Carol (Sherry Miller) — although the promos also promise us Chinese gangs and power lesbians. Jim is a philanderer and hopeful movie extra, while Carol runs a grow-op in her basement (this is Vancouver, after all) and sort of accidentally electrocutes a biker. Both impose on Ethan to clean up their messes.
So far neither the office nor home storylines really seem to bring out their potential humour. While jPod tries to reproduce some of the more experimental aspects of Coupland’s novel by inserting random clips of everyday objects, these don’t quite integrate with the larger framework. The real question, though, is whether Coupland will appear in the series, as he does in the novel. That might be something to look forward to.
sophie comes to us from French Canada, inspired by the popular Quebec show Les Hauts and les Bas de Sophie Paquin. The show begins with its namesake Sophie Parker (Natalie Brown), very cute and very pregnant, visiting a psychic who foretells the beginning of a very bad year for her. He seems quite worried, although it’s unclear how things can really get worse for Sophie than they do in the first episode, barring serious injury or death — which seems unlikely, given the tone of the show.
In any case, as predicted Sophie’s life does take a turn for the worse. Her boyfriend of five years (Sebastian Spence) and father of her child leaves her for her blonde best friend (Amy Lalonde). Then they set up a rival talent agency, leaving Sophie with few clients, except for Estelle (Sara Botsford), the flamboyant actress Sophie’s father was sleeping with when he died (literally). Arguments and crying ensue, as does the dramatic breaking of Sophie’s water while she stands in front of her father’s grave. The first episode leaves us with a mystery as Sophie’s baby is born with what you might call an unexpected skin tone.
The show has flashes of humour and Brown seems a personable actress. But at times it’s unclear why we should care about any of these characters and their troubles. Sophie’s best friend (the one not sleeping with her boyfriend, that is) is Matthew (Jeff Geddis), playing the ever-popular role of gay best friend. He picks colours for her baby’s room and gives her massages. Stereotypical, yes, but somehow their relationship seems the most real one on the show.